Small Humans with Big Feelings: Recognizing Grief in Children

As you journey through life, you will more than likely experience a great loss, such as the death of a loved one or a favored pet. Since COVID-19 made its entrance in late 2019, the feeling of grief in people across the globe has greatly increased after spending months isolated, deaths due to the virus and experiencing a pivot in how to navigate normal day-to-day life.

As an adult, you may be aware of many ways to cope and deal with the unknowns of transition. However, children (anyone under the age of 18) do not have the same wisdom and understanding, being that grief is relatively new to a child. Sadly, statistics show about one in seven children will experience the death of a parent. For many, early parental death can create mental health or psychosocial problems that hinder their ability to meld into social groups as they age.

The third Thursday in November each year is dedicated to Children’s Grief Awareness Day. This day is set to bring more awareness and reduce the stigmatization and isolation children may go through during the grieving process, although about 90% of children will experience the death of someone close, such as a relative or friend, before turning 25 years old. Dealing with the finality of someone passing away takes a huge emotional toll on anyone, but especially those in the young and vulnerable age group.

Children may act “normal” following the loss of someone close. However, the experience of death or loss can leave lasting effects such as feeling “empty” or having a hole. These feelings often go overlooked, as it is not widely understood that kids, too, have intense emotions. Other underlying problems that can manifest during the grieving process include an increased risk of depression, anxiety, obesity and other mental health complications.

As we approach the holiday season, remember that, just as you grieve the loss of a loved one at the dinner table, so do your children. Have age-appropriate conversations with them about loss and grieving. If you’ve lost someone at a young age, share your own experience and how you felt at the time. Pass down stories of those who are no longer with you to keep their memories alive. Most importantly, support your children in times of grief and let them know you are there to talk to them when they are ready. 

If you know a child who is struggling with grief or other mental health issues, UofL Health – Peace Hospital offers no-charge 24/7 crisis assessments at 2020 Newburg Road.  You can also contact the 24-hour Crisis and Information Center line at 502-589-4313 or 800-221-0446.

If you believe a child is being abused or neglected, call the Child Protection Hotline at 877-KYSAFE1 or 877-597-2331.

Tags:

avatar

About Lisa Prewitt

Lisa Prewitt is the lead behavioral health outreach coordinator at UofL Health – Peace Hospital. She holds a master’s degree in counseling and personnel services from the University of Louisville. Lisa has over 20 years of experience working with children, adolescents, and adults struggling with mental health and substance use disorders. She is also a Certified Grief Recovery Method Specialist. Lisa has been with Peace Hospital since 2012

All posts by Lisa Prewitt